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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Woodward to Spokane City Council: East Central police precinct ‘is going to stay right where it’s at’

Mayor Nadine Woodward is joined by city officials and community members during an announcement of a proposal to locate a new police precinct at the former East Side Library on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.  (Greg Mason/The Spokesman-Review)

Mayor Nadine Woodward has no plans to relocate the police precinct opened nearly two weeks ago at the former library in Spokane’s East Central Neighborhood.

This comes after the Spokane City Council passed a pair of nonbinding resolutions Monday asking the city administration to reconsider the precinct’s location. One resolution outlines a process to explore lease options for the former library building. The other calls on the administration to instead open a precinct somewhere along East Sprague Avenue.

East Sprague, between the Hamilton Street overpass and Havana Street, was identified by Council President Breean Beggs as an area with high rates of violent crime.

“If we’re going to base the locations of precincts solely on clusters of criminal activity, we’d be moving precincts around all of the time,” Woodward said.

Woodward has faced criticism from several council members for how she opened the precinct earlier this month.

Woodward pitched the concept in May with a news conference, saying the city would model the precinct after the Spokane Police Department’s downtown precinct, with officers and on-site behavioral health resources.

The mayor at that time said the City Council would have the final say with how the former library building is used.

In opening the precinct earlier this month, however, Woodard exercised her authority to make operational decisions with city-owned buildings without council approval. She has said her decision is supported by community feedback, including the results of a council-commissioned survey.

“Serving an unserved neighborhood with a request like that, I have full authority to do that. That’s an operational decision that I’m allowed to make under the ‘strong mayor’ form of government,” she said. “Just because they didn’t like the results of that survey, or that they had other intended uses for that outside of what the community wanted, is why we’re seeing the resolutions and the ordinance that’s for next Monday.

“That police precinct is going to stay right where it’s at.”

An ordinance proposed by Beggs would give the City Council the final say in locating new police precincts by including precincts under the definition of “essential city facilities” in the city code.

The proposed law outlines criteria for suitable police precinct locations. The ordinance would also give authority to Spokane residents to seek an injunction in court if they believe the city failed to comply with the ordinance’s regulations.

“Unfortunately, it’s eroding away the powers of a strong mayor form of government,” she said. “Now, somebody could sue the city if I don’t follow the process.”

The City Council is set to vote on the ordinance next week.

In the meantime, seven officers – five on site, with the other two working out of COPS shops – have been assigned to the 6,000-square-foot building at Stone Street and East Sixth Avenue.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said the process locating a precinct in East Central should be similar to that of the downtown precinct.

Relocating the downtown precinct “was a much bigger project” by comparison that required financial consideration from the City Council, however, Woodward said. The downtown precinct, which is in a leased location, also needed partnerships with the Spokane Transit Authority (for parking) and the Downtown Spokane Partnership (for furniture).

“I think council has stated they want to purchase a building on Sprague,” Woodward said. “We don’t have the funds to do that.”